You know that feeling you have when the press overlooks the 50 zillion peaceful prolifers on the mall in DC and focuses on the “Kill Obama!!!” kooks or the Westboro Baptist nuts on the sidelines? Apply that to these 10,000 people here.
To be sure, the violence in Baltimore is a story. But it is not (or would not be in a non-violence-driven media) *the* story. The story is the peaceful (and entirely just) protest against a corrupt, violent, police culture chronicled by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who grew up in neighborhood where Freddie Gray was killed in police custody:
Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson ….
And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims—if charges were filed at all. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him—a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was “shocked.”
The money paid out by the city to cover for the brutal acts of its police department would be enough to build “a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds.” Instead, the money was used to cover for the brutal acts of the city’s police department and ensure they remained well beyond any semblance of justice.
None of this is justification for the rioters. Violence is not only not the answer, it’s a guarantee that the legitimate voice of the 10,000 will not be heard on the excuse that if you give them an inch, the rioters will take a mile. Lots of locals, like this mom who is nonplussed by her son’s attempt to live the Thug Life by throwing rock at passing cars and looting, get this:
Others, such as this doughty band of clergy and their flock have confronted the violence as Christ would–non-violently:
And still others, often courageous, anonymous individuals, have done the same, like this guy:
Or this guy:
“They do not respect this young man’s death” is the core truth about the difference between the rioters stealing toilet paper from 7-11, and the peaceful protesters who really are demanding change to a corrupt thugocracy in the Baltimore political system. The looters could not care less. They just saw a chance to party and grab free stuff. Same thing happened here in Seattle during the WTO riots. There’s always a certain small percentage of people who seek violence for entirely selfish purposes.
Conversely, there are also always voices who seek “peace” for entirely selfish purposes: in this case the authorities who killed Freddie Gray and have been documented, again and again, as a menace to the life and limb of the people who are protesting them. Coates makes a devastating point about their hypocrisy:
Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead?
The people now calling for nonviolence are not prepared to answer these questions. Many of them are charged with enforcing the very policies that led to Gray’s death, and yet they can offer no rational justification for Gray’s death and so they appeal for calm. But there was no official appeal for calm when Gray was being arrested. There was no appeal for calm when Jerriel Lyles was assaulted. (“The blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.”) There was no claim for nonviolence on behalf of Venus Green. (“Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up.”) There was no plea for peace on behalf of Starr Brown. (“They slammed me down on my face,” Brown added, her voice cracking. “The skin was gone on my face.”)
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.
Coates is, from an earthly perspective, perfectly right. And yet, non-violence *is* the right response anyway, not because hypocritical thug cops call for it, but because Jesus–who had the snot beaten out of him by the cops, was led like a lamb to the slaughter and did not open his mouth–calls for it. This is where “blessed are the peacemakers” reveals itself to be as unpopular a beatitude as all the others. Peace, according to Paul, is won “by the blood of his cross”. Be a peacemaker and you will first be hated as weak by the oppressor and as a traitor by the oppressed.
The message the rioters in Baltimore need to hear is coming from the peaceful clergy who are marching to quell the violence. But as Coates points out, the message the rest of us need to hear is that the protests in Baltimore didn’t arise from a zero point vacuum, but from frustration over the umpteenth act of unjust violence and murder by cops who get away with this stuff on a regular basis–and not just in Baltimore. It arises from living in a country that has a bigger prison population than Stalin had, and vastly disproportionate numbers of those prisoners being minorities. It arises from a prison complex system that is for profit and rewards enterprising state officials who participate in kid-for-cash jail schemes targeting minorities. It arises from corrupt state systems designed and built to crush the weak:
The real story here is not the violent minority, but the peaceful majority and their entirely just complaint which we ignore at our peril by hiding behind the violence of the thugs as an excuse.
Finally, the other story, which we will never hear because the press–whose main job is selling beer and shampoo by titillating us with violence–will never report it, is summed up by Daniel Schorr his May 1993 World Monitor article, “Confessions of a Newsman,” where he recalls a brief exchange after a news conference with the nonviolent civil-rights activist Martin Luther King:
“….I came to this news conference with a CBS camera crew prepared to do what TV reporters do–get the most threatening sound bite I could in order to ensure a place on the evening news lineup. I succeeded in eliciting from him phrases on the possibility of ‘disruptive protest’ directed at the Johnson administration and Congress.
As I waited for my camera crew to pack up, I noticed that Dr. King remained seated behind a table in an almost empty room, looking depressed. Approaching him, I asked why he seemed so morose.
“‘Because of you,’ he said, ‘and because of your colleagues in television. You try to provoke me to threaten violence, and if I don’t, then you will put on television those who do. And by putting them on television, you will elect them our leaders. And, if there is violence, will you think of your part in bringing it about?’
“I never saw Dr. King again. Less than two months later he was assassinated….”
The real story here is not the few who rioted, but the 10,000 who did not–and the justice of their cause. They have internalized the words of St. Paul:
For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Co 10:3–5)
We do well to praise and imitate such people.